There has been a rise in the number of young people in the UK who are not in education, employment or training, known as Neets.
Official figures show an increase in the number of 16- to 24-year-olds classed as economically inactive over July to September, lifting the number of Neets to 857,000. That was an increase of 14,000 from the previous three months and up 3,000 from a year earlier.
The proportion of young people not in education, work or training edged up to 11.9% from 11.7% in the previous quarter. It is still down significantly from 16.9% five years ago but the change in trend in the latest quarter will fan fears that young people’s opportunities will suffer if Brexit uncertainty weakens the jobs market.
The rise is also a blow to government hopes of improving the UK’s woeful record on productivity growth, something the chancellor, Philip Hammond, placed at the centre of his autumn statement this week. Ministers have pledged to create 3m apprenticeships by 2020 to help tackle both youth unemployment and skills shortages. But critics say those plans are off track and risk sacrificing the quality of training in favour of quantity.
Commenting on the latest Neet figures, Steve Hill at the Open University said the UK must “urgently consider more high-quality, work-based training options, which tailor skills provision to the world of work”.
“The UK has long suffered from the so-called productivity puzzle, which sees us lag behind our G7 counterparts in terms of output per worker. The Neets problem is another facet of the fact that the skills needs of businesses up and down the country are not being met, and is of course a tragedy for a generation of young people as well,” said Hill, external engagement director at the Open University.
The Office for National Statistics said nearly half, or 43%, of all young people in the UK who were Neet were looking for work and available for work and therefore classified as unemployed. The remainder were either not looking for work or not available for work and therefore classified as economically inactive. That category includes the long-term sick and those caring for children or other relatives.
In the latest quarter, the number of unemployed young people fell by 21,000 to 369,000. But the number of economically inactive young people rose by 35,000 to 489,000.
Labour market expert John Philpott noted the figures followed news last week of a slowdown in employment growth.
“These latest figures for Neets provide a worrying sign that the recent slowdown in the overall pace of UK employment growth is hitting the youth job market relatively hard,” said Philpott, director of the consultancy the Jobs Economist.
“As the Neet figures confirm a large number of these jobless youths simply stopped looking for work rather than entering education or undertaking training as an alternative. If as these figures suggest the jobs tide is again turning against Britain’s youth, priority action is needed by government to ensure that Job Centres and providers of employment programmes are able to respond. We shouldn’t allow the policy fashion for helping ‘just about managing’ families to obscure the fact that many of our young people simply aren’t managing at all.”